Yesterday I was caught rummaging around in a junk shop when I should have been doing my Christmas shopping. Lo and behold, I found a stash of mid 1950's John Bull magazines underneath a pile of obscure Victorian song sheets. Imagine my joy when I opened the December 7th 1957 issue and saw this advertisement for Dinky Toys. Or perhaps you can't. I suppose you have to be as grizzled as I am to know what all this was about, but Dinky Toys were the creme de la creme in diecast model vehicles. Forget Corgi Toys with plastic windows, forget Spot-On with its obsessively correct detail, these were the ones. Bronze green telephone service vans, deep blue BOAC coaches, yellow and green Austin taxis and one I still lust after- the Morris J van delivering Capstan cigarettes. Seen here flowing colourfully around Eros, they were the staple of my Santa Claus lists, and many a Christmas morning breakfast was spent manoeuvering the latest addition to my collection around the pork pies and mustard pots. And for the fetishists amongst you, there was simply nothing like the first whiff of new paint as you rolled the new toy back out of its bright yellow box. Merry Christmas everybody.
A walk around my local churchyard on a frosty but bright morning revealed this slate gravestone. Of course in the early nineteenth century nobody would have thought twice about a Richard Burton marrying an Elizabeth, but from our 'modern' perspective the coupling is always going to grab attention. Old churchyards are happy (yes, happy) hunting grounds if you're interested in lettering and the decorative arts. In my local it's the Swithland blue slate ones that have survived the best, those carved from nearby limestone gradually becoming worn smooth by westerly rains. I go on about them in More from Unmitigated England, now stacked-up in your local bookshop. Oh, and I nearly forgot. In a village churchyard just down the road there's a Harry Potter. I won't say where it is in case coach loads of Potter Addicts turn up like others do to the Rosslyn Chapel to see if they can find the Da Vinci Code in the vestry.
A rainy morning, big water drops spattering against the window, blurring my view of sheep huddled-up under the trees. So I start rummaging about in cupboards and staring at bookshelves in the hope of finding something inspiring. Normally the spine of a book tells its message quite clearly, and one moves on. But books without a traditional spine can all too often get neglected, presenting just a few leaves of faded cardboard and the odd rusty staple to the outer world. And so it is this morning as I prise open a gap between volumes and pull out the Pop-Up Train Book. Published by Purnell circa 1950, a line of type advocates the use of a paper clip to keep the book open. I used a bulldog clip so that I could share this 3D railway station with you. Just to give you the back story, John and Mary are sitting next to their luggage by the Booking Office, on their way to visit Granny 'who lives far away in the North of England'. I particularly like the book stall, with its ranks of colourful magazine covers. When publisher Victor Gollancz launched a cheap paperback imprint in the Thirties he spent an afternoon going round all the station bookstalls in London to discover the predominant colour used in print. So was born the classic yellow Gollancz covers. Goodbye John and Mary! Have a happy holiday!
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph